Moving backwards to the East – but the East is moving on

Janet Downs's picture
Once again Mr Gove shows he is moving away from the high-performing countries he admires. He extolled their curricula but was out-of-step with their proposals. He said he had researched international exam systems so that England could have a system which equals the world’s best but his ideas disregard what these countries are doing (see FAQs above). He has praised Finland but ignores the country’s emphasis on equity and trusting teachers – Finland recognises that students will only perform well when their teachers’ morale is high and this will not happen if teachers perceive themselves to be attacked by the authorities*.

But the sun rises in the East – and it is to the East that Gove turns to support a return to O level type exams. But Hong Kong has just replaced O and A level type examinations with a single graduation exam. That leaves Singapore which still uses O level exams for pupils in the Express stream and for those pupils passing the Normal (Technical) and Normal (Academic) exams at sufficiently high level to be allowed to take O levels.

But Singapore also appears to be reforming its system. David Price OBE, director of learning at the Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts, was invited by the Ministry of Education in Singapore in June 2012 to share his innovative ideas. He wrote:

“Singapore's Minister of Education has given officials 18 months to re-build the system so that it can produce students who can create, collaborate, think critically and compete globally in our unpredictable future. Among many other initiatives, they have instigated a pilot programme based on my work.”

David Price led two innovative secondary school programmes, Musical Futures and Learning Futures which, among other things, encourage enquiry-based learning and breaking down barriers between teacher and learners. The Singapore Minister of Education is interested in these innovations but Mr Gove does not appear to be. Instead he’s trying to move the English education system backwards.

Gove’s retrospective ideas are cloaked in the rhetoric of “excellence” and “rigour”. Perhaps he hasn’t realised that these words have a different meaning in the world’s best-performing education systems.

*OECD 2011: “Building a high-quality teaching profession – Lessons from around the world”.  Not available freely on the internet but details of how to obtain a copy are  here.
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Gary's picture
Mon, 09/07/2012 - 20:36

Excellent post. You can download reports on the highly effective changes made to their education systems in East Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong and South Korea (based on the Finnish model) here - - published by the Grattan Institute.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 10/07/2012 - 17:11

Funnily enought that's exactly the same point I was making to Nick Gibb today at ACME.

I asked him how it was that the government had analysed maths curriculums of the best countries in the world - Finland where maths teaching starts at 7, is contextualised and starts from the child and the Pacific Rim where maths teaching focuses on core structures and axioms and teaching children to work creatively from them....and has instead written a draft primary curriculum which put lot of learned by rote content into KS1.

He answered by extolling the importanct of students learning long division algorithms - precisely the opposite of what is recommended by the research of experts on Chinese teaching like LiPing Ma:

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